feb 2015 – a hell like no other – yazidi women telling their stories to Angelina:
The Yazidis (/jəzˈiːdiːz/ yah-zee-dees), also Yezidi, Êzidî or Yazdani, are a Kurdish ethnoreligious group. They live primarily in the Nineveh Province of Iraq. Additional communities in Armenia, Georgia, and Syria have been in decline since the 1990s as a result of significant migration to Europe, especially to Germany.
Their syncretic religion, known as Yazidism and characterised by Mehrdad Izady as a kind of Yazdânism, has links to Zoroastrianism and ancient Mesopotamian religions. Yazidis are monotheists, believing in God as creator of the world, which he has placed under the care of seven holy beings or angels, the chief of whom is Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel, who, as world-ruler, causes both good and bad to befall individuals, an ambivalence reflected in myths of his own temporary fall from God’s favor, before his remorseful tears extinguished the fires of his hellish prison and he was reconciled with God. They venerate Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir whose shrine is at Lalish.
In August 2014 the Yazidis were targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in its campaign to “purify” Iraq and neighboring countries of non-Islamic influence.
The Salafist militant group the so-called “Islamic State”, which considers the Yazidis devil-worshippers, captured Sinjar in August 2014 following the withdrawal of Peshmerga troops, forcing up to 50,000 Yazidis to flee into the nearby mountainous region. Threatened with death at the hands of militants, they faced starvation in the mountains, and their plight received international media coverage, leading American President Barack Obama to authorize humanitarian air drops of food and water onto Sinjar Mountain and US airstrikes against militants in support of the beleaguered religious minority. American humanitarian assistance began on 7 August 2014, with the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force subsequently contributing to the relief effort. At an emergency meeting in London, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott also pledged humanitarian support, while European nations resolved to join the US in helping to arm Peshmerga fighters aiding the Yazidis with more advanced weaponry. Although Kurdish troops managed to rescue several thousand Yazidi refugees via a humanitarian corridor, helping them cross the Tigris into Syria, one relief worker in the evacuation operation described the conditions on Mount Sinjar as “a genocide”, having witnessed hundreds of corpses.
In Sinjar, ISIL destroyed a Shiite shrine and demanded that the remaining population convert to their version of Islam, pay jizya (a religious tax) or be executed. Up to 200,000 people (including an estimated 40,000 Yazidi) fled the city before it was captured by ISIL forces, giving rise to fears of a humanitarian tragedy. Alongside the local Yazidis fleeing Sinjar were Yazidis (and Shiites) who fled to the city a month earlier when ISIL captured the town of Tal Afar.
Most of the population fleeing Sinjar retreated by trekking up nearby mountains with the ultimate goal of reaching Dohuk in Iraqi Kurdistan (normally a five-hour drive by car). Concerns for elderly and those of fragile health were expressed by the refugees, who told reporters of their lack of water. Reports coming from Sinjar stated that sick or elderly Yazidi who could not make the trek were being executed by ISIL. Yazidi parliamentarian Haji Ghandour told reporters that “In our history, we have suffered 72 massacres. We are worried Sinjar could be a 73rd.” UN groups say at least 40,000 members of the Yazidi sect, many of them women and children, have taken refuge in nine locations on Mount Sinjar, a craggy, mile-high ridge identified in local legend as the final resting place of Noah’s ark, facing slaughter at the hands of jihadists surrounding them below if they flee, or death by dehydration if they stay. United States President Barack Obama has authorised “targeted airstrikes” against Islamic militants to protect American military personnel andairdrops of meals and water to thousands of Yazidi and Christian religious minorities trapped on the mountaintop in northwest Iraq. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Iraqis, most of them women and children, besieged by ISIL, escaped from the mountain after US air strikes. Yazidi minority surrounded by Islamist militants on Mount Sinjar were escorted back to Iraqi Kurdistan by The Kurdish Peshmerga forces after fleeing via Syria, Kurdish officials have said. In a dusty camp here, Iraqi refugees have new heroes: Syrian Kurdish fighters who battled militants to carve out an escape route for tens of thousands trapped on a mountaintop. While the U.S. and Iraqi militaries struggle to aid the starving members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority with supply drops from the air, the Syrian Kurds took it on themselves to rescue them. The move underlined how they—like Iraqi Kurds—are using the region’s conflicts to establish their own rule. For the past few days, fighters have been rescuing Yazidis from the mountain, transporting them into Syrian territory to give them first aid, food and water, and returning some to Iraq via a pontoon bridge. The U.N. estimated around 50,000 Yazidis fled to the mountain. But by Sunday, Kurdish officials said at least 45,000 had crossed through the safe passage, leaving thousands more behind and suggesting the number of stranded was higher. Yazidi girls in Iraq allegedly raped by ISIL fighters have committed suicide by jumping to their death from Mount Sinjar, as described in a witness statement.
Captured women are treated as sex slaves or spoils of war, some are driven to suicide. Women and girls who convert to Islam are sold as brides, those who refuse to convert are tortured, raped and eventually murdered. Babies born in the prison where the women are held are taken from their mothers to an unknown fate. Haleh Esfandiari from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has highlighted the abuse of local women by ISIL militants after they have captured an area. “They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls … are raped or married off to fighters”, she said, adding, “It’s based on temporary marriages, and once these fighters have had sex with these young girls, they just pass them on to other fighters.” Speaking of Yazidi women captured by ISIL, Nazand Begikhani said “[t]hese women have been treated like cattle… They have been subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery. They’ve been exposed in markets in Mosul and in Raqqa, Syria, carrying price tags.” In October 2014 the United Nations stated that more than 5,000 Yazidis had been murdered and 5,000 to 7,000 (mostly women and children) had been abducted by the ISIL.
ISIL has, in their digital magazine Dabiq, explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women. According to The Wall Street Journal, ISIL appeals to apocalyptic beliefs and claims “justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world”. A pamphlet has surfaced purporting to be from IS and stating their interpretation of Islam that sex slavery is for them permissible. Mainstream Islam disagrees. Amnesty International plans to publish a harrowing report.